You Can’t Fake The Hake: A Sri Lankan Style Fish Curry…

Sri Lankan style Hake curry

Hake has to be my favourite fish of all. I think this has something to do with having been on tour so much in Spain, and eating various Catalan Hake dishes outdoors with the heat of the sun offset by an enormous flower pot size jug of ice cold beer, while mopping up the savoury fish juices with the garlicky tomato bread that they serve in that part of the world.
The fish, to me, always has the perfect balance between subtlety of  flavour and firmness of texture, which places it just outside the “delicate white fish” category in my estimation.

So when I saw some nice, firm, fresh looking hake steaks in my local supermarket (a rare event, let me assure you) I snapped it up. As I’d already decided on cooking some sort of Sri Lankan curry that evening, the Hake fitted perfectly into my plans.

Here’s the lowdown:

Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • 4 Hake steaks
  • 1 medium onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 3/4 inch pce of ginger
  • 1 stick of lemon grass
  • 2 greeen chillies
  • 1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 10 curry leaves
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp tumeric
  • 1 tblsp fish sauce
  • 1 tin of coconut milk
  • 1 small bunch fresh coriander
  • 3 -4 cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 fresh lemon

Method:

Assemble the onion, ginger, garlic, chilli, lemon grass, mustard seeds and spices. Chop as required:

Assemble the ingredients

Heat some oil in a wok. When hot, toss in the mustard seeds. They should spit and splutter.

Toss in the mustard seeds

Next add the curry leaves and lemon grass (which has been bashed and cut in 2 to help release the juices)

Add the curry leaves and lemon grass

Next, add the onions, ginger, garlic and green chillies and stir fry vigorously for a couple of minutes.

Add the onions, ginger, garlic and green chillies

When the onions etc are softened, throw in the powdered spices, fry for 30 secs approx, then add the fish sauce:

Add the spices and fish sauce

When the fish sauce has sizzled for a few seconds, add the coconut milk and bring to a gently simmer:

Add the coconut milk

At this stage it would be good to put the rice on:

Put the rice on

Also at this stage, chop the fresh coriander, tomatoes and ready the lemon. Have your fish prepared as well:

Chop tomatoes, coriander, lemon

Fish at the ready

Place the fish gently into the sauce:

Place the fish into the sauce

Simmer gently for about 10-15 mins until fish is cooked:

Simmer until fish is cooked

At this point add the garnish: Tomatoes, fresh coriander and squeeze in the lemon:

Add the garnish

Now the curry should be ready to serve, with the fish cooked, but still firm:

Fish should be cooked but still firm

Serve with the previously prepared steamed rice:

Serve

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A bit of holiday cooking (and reading)

Roasted perch and tomatoes served with bread

I do like to read.

So when the opportunity came up to visit my parents, brother, sister, brother in law and niece and nephew at a nice villa in the South of France (Languedoc) the other week I jumped at the chance.
The idea was that while not contributing to the holiday per se, I would cook for everyone, thus saving money overall on the inevitable meals out and takeaways which would have otherwise drained the financial resources.

The problem with reading for me is that, doing what I do, there are really no set hours for work and relaxation as such.
This last year and a half or so, I seem to have been touring rather a lot (Us3, Jim Mullen, Marlena Shaw, Mica Paris, Boy George – each different band presents a different dynamic as to convenient reading opportunities) and although, as you can imagine, there is sometimes a lot of sitting around, I tend not to get through too many books on the road, the main inhibiting factors being (not necessarily in this order):

  • Alcohol – although a couple of drinks sometimes enhance my enjoyment of a book, one too many and I can’t remember what I’ve read when sobered up.
  • Travel –  I can’t read in a car or a minibus, and although it is possible to read on the tourbus, there’s too often distracting activity like DVD watching, animated conversation or the aforementioned  alcohol in commencement at any one time.
  • Noise – A lot of sitting around can occur in soundchecks, but have you ever tried to read with a bass drum or tom tom being played repetitively at high volume through a large PA for the purposes of equalization?
  • Cabin fever – I tend to find it difficult to read for prolonged periods when confined to a small space like a hotel room.
  • Unsettlement – At airports waiting for the gate number to appear, one is always looking up at the screen in the waiting lounge, thus providing an unwelcome break in concentration.
  • Unsocial flight times – A fair amount of flights that we take are often very early in the morning, so while reading on the plane is an option, I’m more likely to want to sleep if possible.

And when at home I equate reading with not doing something constructive (not quite true I know), so I’m much more likely to get to work in the studio or at the piano.
I can get really into reading first thing in the morning (a couple of years ago I got through quite a few Iris Murdoch books just this way), but it does tend blunt my concentration for a couple of hours afterwards, as well as taking up half the day so I rarely do this anymore.

SO when the opportunity came up to go on the holiday, the first thing I did was get the books I wanted to read. Last year I did the same thing, but took the wrong book (I took Crime and Punishment – and while I enjoyed reading the book as a whole, I remember being aware that it didn’t necessarily equate to my idea of relaxing by the pool with a beer)

I took 3 books with me this time:

  • To Kill A Mockingbird – we read this at school I’m sure, but like a lot of things at school, I didn’t invest much attention or effort to it. Reading it again was a much more enjoyable experience.
  • The Life of Pi – couldn’t put this down. Very imaginative, humorous, informative, entertaining, and also lots of references to South Indian food – which is always a good thing.
  • The Poisonwood Bible – Am halfway through this at the moment. Thoroughly engrossing characterizations and fascinating historical perspective.

I also did a lot of cooking. The ingredients and produce available at even the most humble French supermarkets always has me fascinated and brimming with ideas (however, since most of the people I was cooking for were not nearly as wildly liberal or adventurous in taste as myself, I was unable to realize many of these ideas).

But I endeavored to make some nice grub anyhow.

Here’s what I cooked:

Sausage and cheese frittata

When I arrived on the Sunday, we discovered all the supermarkets were closed, so I had to rustle something up from what was in the villa already, and what we could acquire from a local service station shop. There was a box of 6 eggs in the villa along with some herbs, and olive oil, and not much else. The service station sold packs of luncheon meat style sausage, and some nice looking Cantal Juene cheese, which is a young cow’s milk cheese, firm in texture and fruity in flavour. I sliced and fried the sausage, drained the fat from the pan, put the sausage meat in once again and added the beaten eggs with some herbs and black pepper. My intention was to then add the grated cheese on top and brown under the grill to cook the top of the eggs and cheese. But… we then discovered that the grill would only operate with the oven door closed, and I didn’t want to commit the frying pan to this unrelenting heat, so I heated up the oven, then opened it and let the top of the frittata firm up in the residual heat. Not ideal, but did the job OK…. the result being a slightly guey cheese underside to the omelette, which was not at all unpleasant, though a bit messy to cut up…

The next day, we got to the supermarket and stocked up on supplies.

Chicken casserole cooked in white wine with green peppers, olives and bay

The meal that night was a simple but very tasty rustic chicken casserole cooked in white wine and stock, with sliced green peppers, olives, onions, garlic, bay and herbs. It was served with mash potatoes and steamed green beans:

Chicken casserole served with mash and beans

…and accompanied by bread with oil and balsemic vinegar (a constant companion to food that week):

Bread and oil with balsemic

The next morning I made another frittata, this time with sausage and sliced courgettes.
I put the courgettes on the bottom of the pan and the sausages on top, so it appeared like this in the pan:

Sausage and courgette frittata in the pan...

…and took on this lovely appearance when upended onto a plate:

Sausage and courgette frittata

Now before I go any further, I must admit that I did totally steal the idea for an upended courgette frittata from the wonderful blog “Lou Loves Food”  … which is packed with amazing photos and absorbing writing, and I can highly recommend it…. so thanks Lou.. 😉

That evening I decided on making some Indian food ….. yes I’m aware that may not be the most obvious option in the South of France, but my mind was made up as soon as I saw the beautiful mutton on offer in the supermarket. Mutton is a meat less than commonly available in the UK, and it rewards slow patient cooking with the most succulent and flavoursome dishes.

I bought some chopped shoulder (on the bone) pieces to make a curry with tomato and aubergine, and some ribs to make what is known as a “Bone Pepperwater”. This is a meat variation on the standard pepperwater (rasam) which is a soup consistency dish made with tomatoes, lemon, tamarind and spices.

The only problem with all this is that I was somewhat limited in the choice of spices available in the supermarket. I managed to get fresh garlic and ginger, and eventually found a premixed curry powder (not something I normally like to use) which seemed to have a good balance of coriander, cumin, tumeric, mustard and fenugreek in it.

The aubergine in the curry was cooked separately with onions, ginger and garlic (a trick I recently picked up off my mother) and added during the last 1/2 hour, which helps to preserve not only it’s texture, but flavour as well. The curry itself simmered slowly for 5 hours.

Mutton curry with aubergine and tomatoes

The bone pepperwater was made with some fresh vegetables (carrots and courgetttes), plenty of lemon and also some paprika, which I found in the villa. The mutton ribs do add the most amazing stocky earthy flavour to this dish, it must be said.

Mutton "Bone Pepperwater"

After the curry, I thought it would be a good idea to cook fish the next day both from a time and simplicity point of view.
The fish counter at the “Intermarche” was of course vastly superior to my local supermarket.
I eventually settled for some lovely fresh perch fillets, which I roasted on a bed of cherry tomatoes with balsamic  vinegar, bay and salt.
I gave the tomatoes a start of about 15-20 mins in an 180degC oven, then simply popped the perch fillets on top, cooked for a further 10 mins and it was done:

Perch fillets roasted on a bed of cherry tomatoes with balsamic vinegar and bay..

There was not much need to serve this with anything else but that perennial king of juice mopper-uppers: fresh french bread:

Roasted perch and tomatoes served with bread

The next day was to be barbecue day. However, here I failed in my duty as a blogger and recorder of events since due to the distractions of reading, swimming, table tennis and drinking, I didn’t start the fire in time and so even though I made lots of food, the only picture I managed to take before it went dark was of some balsamic chilli prawns. (I have an iPhone so am unfortunately at the mercy of the light).
Just for the record though, I did also make salmon and courgette kebabs, aubergine and red pepper kebabs, 2 types of sausages and chicken in a Mexican marinade.

Prawns in a balsamic and chilli marinade

One advantage of being in the centre of wine producing country was that there was an abundance of vineyards with completely quaffable red wine on tap at an amazing price. (€1-€1.50 a litre).
Had I the time or opportunity I would have loved to avail myself of some of the delicious looking lambs hearts in the supermarket and braise them in red wine for hours until tender… This meal unfortunately would not have been very popular with the others:

Red wine on tap.....

The final day of cooking was also the least intensive since there was a lot of packing, cleaning of the villa etc to be done before vacating, I opted to cook a simple sausage pasta with a tomato and red wine sauce. Despite appearing fairly ordinary, it was most enjoyable, due to the high quality of the sausagemeat:

Sausage and tomato pasta.....

All in all an enjoyable chance to read, cook, swim and relax…… now, back to the piano I think….

Gourmet Gorman cooks Prawn Dhansak

A delicious and easy Prawn Dhansak cooked with prawns, lentils, lemon, yoghurt, chilli and spices…

A quick salmon and vegetable pullao after a day in the studio…

Salmon and vegetable pullao

Was feeling rather drained when I got in last night after a whole day in a recording studio staring at a keyboard and a computer screen.
It was one of those “shall I or shan’t I” moments when the call of the chinese takeaway round the corner seems to sound magnified…

However, having just got home from a gig in Moscow the day before, I’d missed the start of the World Cup (soccer for you Americans). I must admit, I’m one of those occasional football (soccer) spectators who only really gets interested when the World Cup is on, so when I switched on the radio and heard Paraguay score against the defending champions Italy, I decided to crack open a cold beer and cook whatever the fridge presented me with while listening to the match.

I’m glad I did… here’s what I did:

Ingredients:

  • 2 boneless, skinless salmon fillets
  • 1 small tin of anchovies
  • 1 onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1-inch piece of ginger
  • 1 red chilli
  • 1 tsp tumeric
  • 1 tsp mustard powder
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tblsp natural yoghurt
  • 3-4 chestnut mushrooms
  • 1 carrot
  • 1/2 small tin of sweetcorn
  • 1/2 courgette (zucchini)
  • 1/2 dessert spoon cider vinegar
  • Basmati rice enough for 2 people
  • boiling water (twice in volume to the rice)
  • 1 knob of butter
  • spring onion to garnish

Method:

Chop the onions, ginger, garlic and chilli and have them ready.

Heat some oil in the pan and gently mash the anchovies in there.

When they’ve dissolved (but not fried up) add the onions, ginger, garlic and chilli and fry till soft.

Add the tumeric, mustard powder, garam masala and black pepper and fry for a couple of minutes.

Chop and add the carrot, mushrooms, and courgette, and throw in the sweetcorn… fry down for a few minutes to soften.

Stir in the yogurt.

Stir in the rice.

Add the vinegar.

Add the salmon, chopped into chunks.

Add the boiling water, cover and simmer for 10 mins until the rice is done and the water absorbed.

Remove from the heat, chop and add the knob of butter. Cover for a couple of mins to let the butter melt in.

Serve, garnished with the chopped spring onion.

Prudence Pullao (and dhal)

Prudence Pullao

Yesterday I arrived home from Denmark after playing a Boy George gig at the Esbjerg Rock Festival.
As usual, after a full days travel, which commenced with a (reasonably) early start, following on from the previous days travel – soundcheck – gig – and a couple (ahem) of drinks at the bar  after the show, I was pretty tired and in two minds about whether to cook, or just plump for the takeaway option.

However, a look inside the fridge quickly persuaded me that cooking would be the far more prudent path to take on this occasion, given the fact that I had so much stuff to use up, not least of which was a few pieces of lamb kebab left over from a barbeque a couple of days before. There was also 1/2 a bunch of asparagus and a single carrot. I quickly hatched a plan. Here’s what commenced:

Ingredients:

  • about 6 pieces of leftover barbequed lamb,
  • 1 small tin of anchovies,
  • 1 small onion,
  • 1/2 inch pce of ginger,
  • 3 cloves of garlic,
  • 1/2 tsp tumeric,
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala,
  • 1/2 tsp mustard powder
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1 carrot,
  • 4 sticks of asparagus,
  • 1 red chilli,
  • 1 tblsp natural yogurt,
  • 1/2 tblsp tomato puree
  • 1 tsp dried mint
  • 1 cup basmati rice (soaked and drained)
  • 2 cups of boiling water

Method:

  • Heat some oil in a pan, and mash the anchovies into it until they’re dissolved.
  • Chop and fry the onion, ginger, and garlic.
  • Add the tumeric, garam masala, mustard powder and black pepper, and fry briefly.
  • Add the lamb (sliced thinly) and fry in the spices.
  • Add the chopped carrot, asparagus and chilli, and fry round some more
  • Add the rice and fry for a few moments.
  • Add the yohurt and tomato puree and stir through.
  • Add the boiling water and mint and bring to a simmer.
  • Cook until the rice is done, adding more water if necessary or drying off in a medium oven for 10 mins if needs be.

And that was that. You may notice I used anchovies instead of salt or stock. I tend to do this a lot with lamb, since it’s such a strong flavour, I think chicken stock confuses the issue. But anchovies go very well with it and don’t taste at all fishy in the mix….

Finally, I found a portion of dhal in the freezer, which I’d made some weeks earlier, so just thawed it out slowly in a warm pan.
To serve, I moulded the pullao into a small bowl, and simply upended it into the serving bowl – (hey presto !) and surrounded it with dhal as you can see above.

All in all, preferable to a takeaway, and very welcome after planes, trains and automobiles……

Quick dinner last night….Prawn Madras and a Saag Gobi (spinach and cauliflower curry)..

Was very tired yesterday, but also hungry and had some veg to use up, so I rattled this up in about 30-40 mins.

For the prawn Madras I followed basically the same method as my chicken Madras recipe apart from obviously using prawns instead, which I only added to the sauce for the last 10 mins.

For the saag gobi I simply fried some mustard seeds in hot oil till they began to splutter, then added 1/2 onion, 2 cloves of garlic and a small piece of ginger (all chopped of course), 1/2 tsp tumeric and 1/2 tsp cumin, fried that round, then added 1/2 bag of spinach and a couple of handfuls of cauliflower florets.

Then I added a couple of tablespoons of natural yoghurt, a bit of water and some salt and left it to cook down, covered for 15-20 mins, removed the lid and simmered until it had dried up a bit.

Was a good, quick and tasty dinner…..

Chicken Madras


When I was growing up, the type of Indian food I was familiar with was the delicious South Indian / Anglo Indian style of home cooking practiced by my Mother. It was not until after I left home that I was exposed to the sort of food traditionally regarded as curry by the majority of the British populace. Although the origin of the style of British curry takes it’s roots from Bangladeshi or Bengali cuisine, the “one sauce fits all” approach to it to often results in mediocrety in my own experience. That being said, I did develop an appreciation of the particular dish called “Madras” in certain establishments I would frequent as a student in Manchester. I can only imagine that this was a North Indian take on what they thought was a typical curry in the said South Indian city, and when it was done well (which certainly was not a condition to be taken for granted) it was very good indeed. After trying to replicate the rich tomato based sauce a couple of times without much success, it dawned on me that what was missing was lemon, which was not necessarily an ingredient I would normally mix with tomatoes. But the combination of the tomato and lemon, with red chilli and a few carefully chosen spices does indeed make a dish, which for me reminds me of the very best restaurant Madras curries I have eaten.

Ingredients:

  • 300g Chicken
  • 1 large onion
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 inch pce of ginger
  • 2-3 red chillies (hot variety)
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp tumeric
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • tomato passata
  • salt
  • 1 lemon
  • some green coriander

Method:

Any chicken can be used for this dish, but all I had in at the time was a couple of skinless boneless thigh fillets, which didn’t look quite enough, so I augmented this with a couple of chicken wings from which I removed the lowest part and then jointed into 2 pieces each. I always keep a bag of chicken wings in the freezer (my butcher gives me them for free when I make a bulk purchase). They’re invaluable for situations like this since they can be defrosted in 5 mins in a microwave, and can really add an extra richness to a stock or stew. I’m sure their inclusion in this dish made for an even more delicious sauce.

The first step is to make the base for the sauce. To do this, finely chop the onion, ginger, garlic and red chilli, as shown above. If they are well chopped, they will make for a smoother sauce. You could process them in a blender or food processor, but personally I like a bit of texture in the dish (and I also find the activity of chopping quite theraputic.)

Fry the base ingredients in some oil (I normally use sunflower oil for indian food), until soft. Then add all the powdered spices apart from the garam masala. Fry the spices gently for  2-3 minutes, taking care that they don’t burn on the bottom of the pan.

Next, add the chicken to the pan and fry until it has lost it’s raw appearance, as shown above.

Add the tomato passata, just enough to cover the chicken and bring to a gentle simmer. Cover and leave to cook for 30-40 mins.

After 30-40 mins, the chicken should be cooked, and the oil should have separated from the sauce, as shown above. At this point I added salt to taste (this is because some tomato passata contains salt already, so it’s best to do it after sauce is cooked), the garam masala, and threw in some green coriander.

Now squeeze in the juice of a whole lemon, bring back up to simmering point and serve, garnished, if you like, with some more green coriander.